It has been brought to our attention by some of our Native American colleagues that the term stakeholder is no longer appropriate to use because it is so deeply rooted in colonial practices. We have been encouraged to use terms like "interested parties" instead. We were wondering if any other organizations are having similar conversations and if you have any terms that you are using that you could share? Thank you!
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Hey Molly! Great to see your name pop up in my inbox. I was unaware of this, but I did a quick search and it does seem like there is a reason for it. This organization advocates for the term "rights and title holders" instead of "stakeholders." Thanks for bringing this topic up and I hope this information is useful! It's these kinds of conversations among non-affected parties that can really enhance allyship and ultimately conservation objectives that benefit all sides.
Hi Alejandro! Great to hear from you. Thanks so much for the response. I have shared the website to the organization you shared with my colleagues. Yes, this is a topic that is generating a lot of discussion at our organization and we want to make sure we have as much input and information as possible. We want to make sure as an organization we are not perpetuating a culture that is not inclusive and safe. Thank you!
I did not know that, thanks Molly!
A quick internet search suggested that Aboriginal Peoples in Autralia also find the term incorrect/potentially offensive because (like the Native Americans) they are differentiated from what other groups can do - because they have legal rights that those other groups do not. Would be good to get more info on this - particularly from members of groups that find this term problematic.
Thank you so much for your post. I haven't heard of this being a problem in Kenya particularly as the term is used a lot in our judicial system but I will definitely be asking the question at our next "stakeholders" meeting!
Interesting post. Thanks for bringing this up. In my work especially in Southeast Asia, we use the "stakeholders" term not only for the affected communities but also for other organisation/people who are involved in the project area, such as local government, CSOs, or even companies.
Hey Molly! That's a really interesting point! I haven't come across any sensitivities surrounding this as yet (maybe we just haven't consulted enough on it) but I'll definitely consider it and look a little more into it moving forward with work here in southern Africa. However, all organisations that I've worked for until now have also used this term in the same way that @Felicia Lasmana mentions e.g., project partners/collaborators - other NGO's Gov. dept's, corporates, etc.
Hi Beckie! Great to hear from you. Yes, I think the conversations around this word are just starting and are emerging in different places. However, here in Colorado it has become a high priority conversation given the history and the significance of Native American communities here. If I get anymore information or resources that could be helpful to folks, I will certainly share them.
Good point Molly. In our coaching sessions our communication expert suggested us to avoid the use of the word stakeholders and specify who they are: for example tour guides, landowners, travel agents, etc . So, when possible, we try to avoid the use of "stakeholders" although It helps to save words in many space limited texts.
Wow, thank you so much for this information Pablo. This is very helpful. We fully recognize that this word is so deeply ingrained in our field, our work and our brains and it will take some time to shift the culture around its use and its origins. However, we are really open to conversations to learn how other organizations and groups are moving away from this word (and other words) and how they are influencing others to do the same. Thank you!
Hi Molly! It's great to hear that you're conversing with indigenous people, sharing your knowledge, and people that have gained power and privilege listening, learning, and taking actions to right wrongs, change their perspective, and how they action that privilege, language is very powerful and I think this is an important conversation.
I've always wondered where the origin of stakeholders comes from as it doesn't really explain who those people/groups are, so thank you for teaching me and the rest of the community. I think interested partners is a good one as something like right or title holders doesn't really include people like the public, and also brings an assumption that only people with rights and titles (i.e. people with privilege) are able to have a say in this, which I believe is rarely the case. l look forward to hearing more examples. Did the Native Americans you spoke to have any other suggestions?
Thanks for this post Molly. To be honest I had never stopped to think about the power of this word and how it could be interpreted by the different interested parties in the processes.
Although I have never seen someone not identify themselves as a stakeholder, I clearly agree that the wrong use of words can clearly affect the outcome of a process. In my experience I have had unproductive meetings where clearly some participants have felt offended because their professional title was not mentioned, or simply because they were not included in the round of acknowledgements. For some cultures this may be something bearable, a simple anecdote, but for others it is not. That is why it is so important to have local actors with a key role in the development of these processes, who help to ensure that the proposal and the process itself are not only fully compatible with the socio-cultural reality of the environment where it is carried out, but that it has been generated by them and for them.
It is increasingly clear to me that those of us who were not born in the environment where we apply our knowledge have a role to play in strengthening other local leaders. The more we work along these lines, I believe that the results will be much more visible and will generate a notable impact.
Just found some literature on the subject to help back up the learning from this conservation:
Extract below from: Porter, L., 2006. Planning in (post) colonial settings: Challenges for theory and practice. Planning Theory & Practice, 7(4), pp.383-396.
"However, conceptualising Indigenous peoples as 'stakeholders' in planning processes fails to appreciate their unique status as original owners of country that was wrested from them by the modern, colonial state. As Langton points out, within Indigenous law rests the notion that “Aboriginal people are born with an inchoate, inherited and transmissible right in a 'country'” (Langton, 1997, p. 1). Indigenous peoples in Australia must occupy a position more significant than that of another stakeholder in land management questions. Further, the approach of including stakeholders of different voices in more deliberative, communicative processes assumes that such inclusion is the key aspiration of Indigenous peoples. Inclusion is in fact highly problematical as it turns on paternalistic notions of compassion and comparative disadvantage, compassion being an insufficient mechanism for delivering rights (see Dodson, 1994, p. 67). "